The 2014 Bordeaux Vintage - Andrew's Diary
Friday, April 24, 2015 in Report
The vintage 2014 Bordeaux “en-primeur” tastings have kicked off with high hopes for a solid campaign, likely to take place in early May. Although the weather has been soupy and cold with intermittent squalls, there is a renewed optimism from the rain drenched media and the trade. After three years of dismal trading, 2014 is a vintage to really talk about. The strengthening US Dollar has brought renewed interest from the US and even from China. The tasting venues all around Bordeaux are extremely busy with people of all ilk and origin. The Chinese are out in force and American accents ricochet from wall-to-wall like static. The British wine trade, seemingly an army in corduroy and brogues, are racing around the vineyards, with the usual feeling of entitlement, even though Aquitaine was lost over 400 years ago. The Bordelaise recently received a round-robin letter from the UK’s most important wine traders demanding that prices are kept at a sensible level this year. This cat and mouse game is something of a tradition. The love-hate relationship gives a charming tension. Apparently there is a lot of positive wine trade talk on “twitter”, indicating that buyers are looking at jumping back into the Bordeaux primeurs market.
At the media dinner at Chateau Marquis de Terme at the commencement of the Union des Grands Crus tastings, Olivier Bernard, President of the Union des Grands Crus and proprietor of Domaine de Chevalier, introduced the 2014 vintage as “a very good year”. Many of the Chateau owners are delighted with the quality and freshness of the wines, across the reds, dry and sweet whites. Having seen many of the wines now, I think that the wines are generally very expressive with vibrant colours, beautiful aromatic complexity, concentration and nervy drive. I suspect 2014 will one day be reassessed as a “dark horse “vintage”. Paul Pontallier, of Chateau Margaux, one of the most articulate speakers in the wine world describes the vintage as being “between two great clouds.” Indeed this vintage challenges all of us to think about what really matters to us when it comes to the great wine experience. Is it perfection or is it character? Having lived through the heady times of the great 2009 and 2010 vintages, and the speculative ascendancy in prices and attitudes, I feel that that 2014 brings Bordeaux back to Earth. This is a vintage to remember because the wines are lovely, yet beauty slightly flawed, like a mole on cheekbone or a Dalmation with one extra spot.
There has been much talk about the growing season. Almost every hour of the day throughout the vegetative cycle is monitored and analysed. Charts have been presented to illustrate the unique conditions leading up to harvest. Distilled down to its basic elements, the season was atypical. The climate was cool yet warm and wet yet dry. After a mild and wet winter, normal spring weather resulted in even flowering. Although June was quite warm summer didn’t arrive. At Chateau Pontet Canet, the snails arrived “en masse” destroying young shoots, yet indicating rain. This biodynamic estate prepared for the worst by giving the vines “tea treatments”. This paid off because it was cool and frequently wet during July and August. Disease pressure, especially botrytis was minimal or at least controllable. Warm sunny conditions during September accelerated ripening resulting in the fruit achieving full sugar ripeness. At Chateau Pichon Lalande harvest was a prolonged affair with picking starting on the 16th September and ending on the 20th October. Other Chateaux picked within a three week period. Clearly the hot dry conditions during September and October allowed the fruit to reach optimum ripeness. In Sauternes Barsac, a late flurry of humid weather promoted botrytis cinerea. At Chateau d’Yquem the core of the crop was picked between the 5th September and 18th September although further “tries’ took place until the end of October. Nature teased and challenged vignerons. Most Chateau estates played their cards intuitively, throwing their best resources to the beat of nature’s drum.
“Freshness and tension” are frequently used to describe the wines, perhaps alluding to the al-dente textural notes and mineral length of many wines. This is an excellent vintage, perhaps paradoxically “classic”, in the sense that the wines portray their sub-regional origins very well. The northern Medoc wines, especially, are very impressive with very dense colours and concentration. The best estates in Pomerol and St Emilion made impressive wines.